(Editor’s note: This Berlin work diary entry is the fifth installment in Chris Loar’s ongoing series. See his first post here; his second here , his third installment here and the fourth here. Pt. 2 of “Mutiny on The SS Babelsberg” will post on 21 April.)
Assistant Director to a major International Netflix Production: “Okay Christopher, it’s really good, we’re just gonna get one more so the director can see you do it many different ways.”
Me: Ok. (Walking into a small casting room at Babelsberg Studios holding an imaginary rifle, gesturing to imaginary people to leave:) Get out. I‘m the captain now.
It was the ninth or tenth time I had performed an improvised climactic scene in an out-of-the-blue audition for an extremely high-profile television show. I felt like I was doing pretty good work and casting kept asking me to do it again with little adjustments here and there, so I was optimistic. It was a sunny day in May 2021, and I was alone in a tiny little room on the lot in Germany’s historic Babelsberg Studios, located just outside of Berlin in Potsdam, Brandenberg.
“Ok, we‘ve got it,” the Assistant Director said, the sunlight bouncing off of his glasses giving his face an iridescent, almost alien glow. “I‘ll show these to the director over the weekend and we‘ll let you know.”
“This could be my big break!” I thought as I walked briskly off the lot toward the S-bahn station.
The irony of possibly finding success in the entertainment industry, after fleeing New York City in the middle of a pandemic, flowered in my heart. I started imagining the phone call back home, informing my family that yes, I had been cast in a major international series that will shoot at the same studio where such films as “Metropolis” and “The Matrix Resurrections” were made.
After a few minutes of requisite daydreaming, I settled into being okay with whatever the outcome would be. Maybe I‘d get the part, maybe not. As I rode the train back to my flat in Wedding, North Berlin, I reviewed just exactly how I ended up auditioning at Germany‘s storied and magical film factory.
I had been out of work for several weeks; my contract for a temporary job in a food processing laboratory had ended and my regular cocktail bartending gig was still on hold as the pandemic continued to rage through Germany, rendering bars and restaurants closed indefinitely. I relocated to Berlin from Brooklyn in October 2020 to pursue an MA in filmmaking and do stand up comedy, and although Berlin had been open for business all summer, due to skyrocketing infection numbers, the city quickly shut down again in November.
In addition to making short films, I had been persistently hunting for any work I could find to help cushion my complete loss of income. I scoured job listings on every site in existence and plumbed the depths of facebook hospitality workers‘ groups. After several unsuccessful interviews and awkward failed trial shifts at various non-bartending establishments, I remembered a whole area of work I had completely sworn off for a very long time: film and television background acting.
Being an extra on a TV show is incredibly boring, not very well paid and is sort of like getting paid to be a third class passenger on an extremely fancy entertainment industry voyage. The hours are long and often begin at dawn. There is free food, but it‘s usually not very good and there are hours and hours of simply waiting around doing nothing.
During rough times in New York, I had occasionally fallen back on such gigs to make ends meet, but only when I truly had no other options. This kind of work was a distant unpleasant memory, but now that I had found myself jobless in Germany, the possibility of earning some Euros by standing around for 8-to-12 hours on a set didn‘t seem so bad.
And after all, I was in Berlin studying film; couldn‘t this be part of my education?
After a few clicks and some uploaded pictures, I was already receiving notices about shows that needed bodies. I got invited to be an extra on a show that, due to a Non-Disclosure Agreement I signed, I‘ll just call, “European Cosmic Journey of Destiny.” After a costume fitting and meeting the Assistant Director, I received an email that invited me to audition for the speaking role of Mutineer.
Without violating my agreement, I can say that “European Cosmic Journey of Destiny” is a very big deal of a show, with a major director, a star-studded international cast and lots of incredible special effects. The show takes place on a boat, and the part I was trying out for was a low class passenger who raids the upper decks during a shipwreck caused by a storm.
I was sent audition sides in both German and English. I was told to just learn the English ones if I wasn‘t comfortable with German. I took the time necessary to learn both, and walked into the audition with my head held high.
About the author:
Chris Loar is a comedian and artist living in Berlin. He was born in Torrance, California and called Brooklyn, New York home for 16 years before moving to Germany in 2020. A multi-hyphenate creator, Chris is also a passionate movie maker, Yoga teacher and cocktail bartender.
Follow him on Instagram at chrisloarcomedy
See more of Chris’s Berlin work diary here.
Read more on Dispatches’ Berlin archive here.